U.S. Threat Condition Raised to ‘High’; Corroborated Info Cited


By Kathleen T. Rhem, AFPS

WASHINGTON, Feb. 7, 2003 — Citing an increased threat of terrorist attacks within the United States, President Bush agreed today to raise the homeland security threat condition to "orange," designating a high likelihood of attack.

"This increased threat condition designation is based on specific intelligence received and analyzed by the full intelligence community," Attorney General John Ashcroft said in a televised press conference from the Justice Department. He added that several sources corroborated the intelligence information.

Since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, U.S. law enforcement and intelligence officials have warned that al Qaeda is still active and still dangerous. The color-coded threat-level warning system was started in response. Since it began, the threat level has mostly held steady at "yellow," meaning "elevated threat of attack."

The level has been raised beyond that on three previous occasions, however, the most recent being Sept. 10, 2002. Ashcroft noted that the heightened threat level lasted about two weeks.

The current orange threat level is specifically related to the Muslim holy period of Haj, which ends in mid-February.

Intelligence reports warn of threats to apartment buildings and hotels and other "soft," or lightly guarded, targets that would lead to high numbers of casualties, the attorney general said. Economic targets, such as transportation or energy hubs, and sites symbolic of American history or power might also be targeted.

Recent arrests in London of individuals possessing the deadly biological toxin ricin show terrorists are willing and may be able to carry out biological or chemical attacks.

Federal, state and local law enforcement and public health agencies have been made aware of the change and will be updating their security measures, Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge said. He reminded security managers at all levels that varying security measures can be an effective deterrent.

Officials are not recommending individuals cancel plans or gatherings. "As we have in the past, we ask that Americans continue their daily work and leisure with a heightened awareness of their environment and the activities occurring around them," Ashcroft said.

Ridge suggested Americans take some time to prepare for possible emergencies and that families make a contact plan, "so that if an event occurred you can get in touch with one another."

He also urged Americans to become informed now about the types of threats and how best to deal with each. "Terrorist attacks really can potentially take many forms," Ridge noted, "and so by learning more now about these kinds of attacks, you and your families can be armed in advance with a kind of information that you might need and that might be critical to your health and well-being."

Such information is available on the Homeland Security Department Web site at www.dhs.gov.